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MIL@MIN: Maldonado's two-run homer puts Brewers ahead

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Brewers had plenty of faith in John Axford when they sent him to the mound in the ninth on Friday.

It didn't matter that Axford failed to convert save opportunities each of the previous two nights. It didn't matter that those two blown saves were as many as he had during all of last year.

And Axford showed exactly why, pitching a 1-2-3 ninth inning to close out Milwaukee's 5-3 victory over Minnesota in front of 37,295 at Target Field.

"I want to be there as many times as possible, because then were always winning, right?" said Axford, who converted his 11th save of the season in 14 chances. "I didn't get it done [Thursday] night, so I definitely wanted to be out there again. I'm just glad the third time it worked out."

The reigning National League Relief Man of the Year didn't resemble at all his 2011 form in his last two appearances. Axford blew a two-run lead on Wednesday in Kansas City, walking two before surrendering a game-tying triple. Then he gave away a one-run advantage on Thursday after a walk, wild pitch, and a walk-off single.

And Francisco Rodriguez, not Axford, figured prominently in Tuesday's late-inning loss, making Friday's victory a welcome reprieve for Milwaukee's bullpen.

Friday's outing included little drama for Axford. He retired the top of Minnesota's order on 10 pitches.

"All three of them in Kansas City were heartbreaking," Axford said. "We could have came away with three wins from there -- certainly two, because I didn't do my job. We definitely needed that one today."

Setting up Axford's chance was Martin Maldonado, who broke a 3-3 tie in the top of the ninth with a two-run homer against Minnesota's Matt Capps. Maldonado's fourth home run this month also scored Corey Hart, who led off the inning with a ground-rule double.

The rookie catcher's home run came on a 3-2 fastball from Capps, who sandwiched three fastballs with two sliders before that pitch.

"Most of the fastballs I threw were up in the zone," Capps said. "I just couldn't make the adjustment to get it down. I felt good with my slider and in hindsight I should've thrown back-to-back there to the guy who hit the homer."

Maldonado has nine RBIs in his last seven games.

"You try to help the team any way you can," Maldonado said. "You want to be the guy to pick somebody up. That's why were here as a team."

Earlier, the Brewers faced the prospect of being no-hit for the first time since 2007 after five innings. But Ryan Braun's three-run homer in the sixth not only ended Francisco Liriano's no-hit bid, it also gave the Brewers a 3-2 lead.

But Yovani Gallardo allowed a run in the bottom half on Trevor Plouffe's second homer of the game to lock the teams into a 3-3 tie.

Gallardo nearly matched Liriano for four innings, mowing down 12 of the first 14 batters he faced and surrendering one hit through four. Solo home runs by Plouffe keyed troublesome fifth and sixth innings.

After Plouffe's homer in the sixth, Gallardo recovered to preserve the tie. Infield singles put Brian Dozier and Alexi Casilla on the corners for Denard Span. But Gallardo finished off Span and the inning with his seventh strikeout.

Gallardo allowed three runs on eight hits over six innings, the seventh quality start by a Milwaukee pitcher in nine games. "I thought that was one of Yo's best games this year," manager Ron Roenicke said. "The location was great. The life was great. The off-speed pitches were great. He was really good today."

Gallardo gave up Plouffe's first home run to lead off the fifth. But again, Gallardo escaped the inning with minimal damage, allowing only one additional run despite full bases for Josh Willingham.

Back-to-back singles from Dozier and Drew Butera followed Plouffe's homer. Casilla then blooped a single to shallow left, scoring Dozier and increasing the lead to 2-0.

Span advanced the runners with a sacrifice bunt and Joe Mauer walked to load the bases. Willingham gave Gallardo's pitch a deep ride to center, but Carlos Gomez caught it short of the warning track for the third out.

"Other than the two home runs, they manufactured it," Gallardo said. "I was making the pitches I needed to make, but it seemed like that inning everything was just falling. But I was able to get out of it with two runs instead of a lot more damage."

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